The PESTILENCE and ATHEIST reunions are undoubtedly among the most significant in the Tech/Prog Death Metal genre, with the prospect of new music from the abovementioned acts inevitably working many fans into a collective tizzy. It’s hard not to comment on the similarities in these two bands’ respective career trajectories – both stormed out of the gates with strongly Thrash-influenced debuts (“Malleus Maleficarum” and “Piece Of Time” respectively), later sliding comfortably into a more Progressive Death style (“Testimony Of The Ancients” and “Unquestionable Presence”), then both acts bowed out rather unceremoniously with the overly self-indulgent and plain weird autofellatio efforts that were “Spheres” and “Elements”. Last year PESTILENCE returned with the decent but ultimately forgettable “Resurrection Macabre” that saw a return to a cruder more old-school form of Death Metal, and this year ATHEIST’s comeback effort has just been released, and....
... it is everything I had hoped for! Some comebacks pay off, creatively at least, and this is one of them. The album in question, “Jupiter,” succeeds not only in avoiding the pitfalls of the “Elements” album, but also in terms of casting more than a passing eye to the past (i.e. the “Unquestionable Presence” era) but without coming off as an unimaginative retro effort. This album is a pretty spotless marriage of old and new, and based on its strengths it is easy to extrapolate that “Jupiter” can (and should) serve as a springboard to even better and brighter things in the future.
Sporting what is easily one of the best album covers I’ve seen all year I was already chomping at the bit to let the actual songs blast out of my speakers, and as soon as those searing yet jangly riffs of opener “Second To Sun” started worming their way into my subconscious I knew I was in for quite a wild ride. As is to be expected from this band the riffs and arrangements are boldly fluid, with the band never settling on any specific riff set for any extended period of time. Technically things are all over the place, but the vicious grooves, textured soloing, and the simply maniacal vocal delivery of Kelly Schaefer keep things together and coherent enough to prevent the album from bursting apart at the seams. The aforementioned groove is very prevalent throughout – dare I say there is also a slight LAMB OF GOD vibe in “Second To Sun”? – but it suits the band’s rhythmically charged approach just fine. “Fictitious Glide” is weirder still; the arrangements are so peculiar that I can’t actually recall a ‘main’ riff, but I’d be remiss for saying that it didn’t keep me headbanging throughout, with the slinky soloing offering pretty much the only respite from their sonic onslaught. “Fraudulent Cloth” takes a more straightforward approach that is as thrashy as it is groovy. From here on they keep flexing their Tech/Prog muscles, with the eerie violin intro of “Live And Live Again” segueing effortlessly another heavy dose of Death, “Tortoise The Titan” keeps upping the atmosphere with a set of really wicked riffs (and a great chorus), while the album closer “Third Person” even has an opening section that is essentially Black Metal if you listen closely.
Even though the album only clocks in at a measly 32 minutes it covers a whole lot of musical ground, the band traversing multiple styles and tones that run the gamut from Death to Thrash to Groove and that weird little Black Metal ditty. I can’t really fault any of the musicians because the whole affair is spot on from a technical perspective, but I’d have to say that vocalist Kelly Schaefer steals the show with his vicious and expressive performance. The production is a bit on the thin side (the guitars could be a bit higher in the mix, same goes for the bass) but this minor gripe is easily forgotten when you find yourself enthralled by the manic bedlam of “Jupiter."
This is a great comeback effort from a band that obviously still has a lot of gas in the trunk and tricks up the sleeve. I wouldn’t call this my absolute favourite Death Metal album of the year but in terms of the band’s body of work, this one can easily stand up to their early classics. Great job, guys!
(Online December 3, 2010)